The SoundStage! Network’s multi-author blog about hi-fi, home theater, and more.
Happy with the transition from a pair of Monitor Audio Studios to a pair of Monitor Audio Gold 100s, I wanted to see what it would take to get to the next level of sound quality with my A/V setup. The current system is powered by a vintage Coda Model 11 stereo amplifier capable of outputting 100Wpc in pure class A. The Coda is fed by an Oppo BDP-103 Blu-ray player using its analog RCA outputs and integral volume control. Cables are AmazonBasics speaker cables and RCA interconnects. The primary source for this system is an older Roku digital media player connected to the Oppo via an HDMI cable. I watch Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, HBO Max, YouTube, and FloSports over this system.
In “Part 1” of this four-part blog on my journey with Monitor Audio loudspeakers, I gave you a brief rundown of the physical and design differences between the Monitor Audio Studio ($1400 per pair, all prices USD), a pair of which I own, and the Gold 100 ($2300/pr.). I decided to compare the Gold 100 to the Studio for a couple of reasons: first, the Studio is now discontinued, and the Gold 100 is a logical purchase for someone in need of a reasonable-sized standmount speaker at a good price. Second, what audiophile would not enjoy the experience of comparing some closely matched loudspeakers?
Canada has had a relatively low per-capita death rate from COVID-19 since the pandemic began, and when you adjust for population size, Canada currently boasts one of the highest percentages of single-dose vaccinations in the world. Despite these successes, provincial governments across Canada are still maintaining strict lockdown measures, in the hope of avoiding a fourth wave of coronavirus outbreaks and unnecessary deaths. But these lockdowns have kept many businesses closed and countless people out of work.
Monitor Audio’s Studio loudspeaker was introduced in 2018 and was touted as having Platinum-level drive units in a clean, simplified cabinet (Platinum is Monitor’s flagship speaker line). As I needed something to fill the (speaker) void left when I moved from my longtime residence to a rental house, while my family and I searched for a larger home, I promptly bought a pair. I detailed this purchase in “Jeff’s New Temporary Audio System,” published in May 2018 on SoundStage! Ultra. The $1400-per-pair Studios (all prices in USD) would be driven by a vintage Coda Model 11 class-A, 100Wpc stereo amplifier. When we moved into our current residence in summer 2018, the Monitors and the Coda moved, too. Although I built a new reference system, the Studios and the Model 11 were set up as part of a simple A/V system that I still use today for streaming movies and listening to music over YouTube.
I don’t do cable reviews very often. In fact, it’s been eight years since I reviewed some. I know some audiophiles go deep on cables and tweaks, but I’ve always been a set-it-and-forget-it kind of guy. So while my system as a whole has slowly moved upscale over the years, my hodgepodge of affordable cables from AudioQuest, DH Labs, and Dynamique Audio decidedly does not belong in the mix with my $11,000 Hegel Music Systems H590 integrated amplifier-DAC and $13,999.99/pr. KEF Reference 3 loudspeakers. Then the e-mail arrived: Siltech is updating its Classic Series of cables, and would I have interest in getting some in? Uh, I sure would.
As I mentioned in a previous post, my two-channel system is a veritable revolving door of integrated amplifier review units as of late. I recently took a deep dive into Marantz’s PM-KI Ruby, the last in a long line of Signature pieces personally tuned by brand ambassador Ken Ishiwata before he left the company in 2019. Last month, I followed that up with a look at Rotel’s A11 Tribute (you can read the full review here). A tribute to whom, you ask? The same Ken Ishiwata, who consulted with Rotel on a redesign of the popular budget int-amp before his passing in November of 2019.
The Revel Ultima2 Salon2 has been around since the beginning of high-end audio. OK, not really, but it feels like it. Doug Schneider reviewed it and made it his reference back in December of 2009, and it’s still his go-to speaker to this day. At $21,998 USD per pair, the flagship Revel represented to many the best you could do for 20 large back in the day. With the excellent Harman research and testing facilities and a design team led by industry stalwart Kevin Voecks, the Salon2 was part boutique high end, part corporate branding exercise, and part measurement reference for other companies to shoot for—it’s a high-end audio icon of sorts. The four-way, six-driver Salon2 is still a very competitive product by today’s standards—a testament to its design team if there ever was one—and you could do much worse than acquiring a new pair.
I’d love to tell you that we audio journalists are immune to buzz, that we’re dispassionate evaluators who pay no heed to the excitations of the enthusiast community. But the truth is, we’re enthusiasts, too. So, as Vincent Audio’s star has continued to rise over the past few years, I’ve grown increasingly intrigued by the brand and eager to put my front paws on one of its hybrid integrated amplifiers. Today is that day. The Vincent Audio SV-500 is now sitting in my two-channel audio system betwixt a pair of Paradigm Studio 100 v5 towers, warming up and getting ready to be fully reviewed on SoundStage! Access very soon.
Usually I look forward to receiving a new audio component, unboxing it, and then admiring it in all its audiophile glory as I contemplate how best to integrate it into my system. However, with the Rotel Michi X5 integrated amplifier-DAC ($6999 USD) that I recently received for review, I was dreading this, as it’s a beast of an amp weighing a back-breaking 96.56 pounds. After picking up the X5 at local dealer Ayreborn Audio/Video, where the Canadian distributor, Kevro International, had shipped it, I drove home and struggled to get the large flight case out of my car’s hatch. I’ve wrangled amps this heavy before, such as the Musical Fidelity M8xi and SensaSound TPO-7300, but they arrived at my doorstep, which made things much easier.
When the Paradigm Founder Series 100F loudspeakers first arrived at my house in two boxes, a couple of things immediately popped to mind. The first was that the boxes were much bigger than I thought they’d be, since this isn’t even the largest model in the line—the 120H is. The other had to do with the finish they came in, which I first read on one box: Black Walnut. I dislike almost all black-colored speakers, so I thought, Why did they have to send me them in that finish?
Though I majored in history in college, I’m not the kind of guy who lives in the past. Growing up, I found it confusing when old people would play music from when they were young and then talk about decades past as if they were the golden years and the world had been going to shit ever since. Why? What was I missing? That crossed my mind when I unboxed Graham Audio’s LS5/9 loudspeakers recently ($6795 USD per pair).
When I reviewed Lyngdorf Audio’s TDAI-3400 integrated amplifier-DAC last June, I marveled at its implementation of the company’s proprietary Equibit, class-D amplifier technology and RoomPerfect room-correction system. It is also a very handsome, well-built, and luxurious component with a price to match, $7199 (all prices in USD) as reviewed. So when I heard about the company’s new compact, streaming integrated amplifier-DAC priced at only $2199, I was more than a little intrigued. I wondered how much of the TDAI-3400’s functionality and performance they could provide in this much less expensive component. And it wasn’t long after requesting a review sample from the company’s US office that a box containing a TDAI-1120 arrived at my doorstep via UPS from Lyngdorf in Denmark.
Would you consider Marantz’s $3999.99 (all prices USD) PM-KI Ruby integrated amplifier an affordable audio component? If so (or if not), how exactly do you define “reasonably priced”? It’s a question that has dogged me since the start of my career, and it’s one that every publication for which I’ve written has answered differently. At Wirecutter, a $1500 A/V receiver is pushing the upper bounds of acceptability in terms of pricing. Back in my Robb Report days, that same AVR probably would have been too cheap even to consider covering within our pages.
Recently, John McGurk of AudioShield, distributor of EMM Labs and its lower-priced co-brand, Meitner Audio, told me that Meitner had released the new MA3 integrated digital-to-analog converter (DAC) with internal music streamer ($9500, all prices USD). The MA3’s introduction interested me—not because there’s a shortage of combo DAC-streamers out there, but because EMM Labs or Meitner Audio introducing an integrated (i.e., multifunction) component is a rare event.
I’m forever counting my blessings as an audio reviewer. Despite having been with SoundStage! for over 23 years now, I’m always mindful that I get to do something most audiophiles only dream about: listen to, enjoy, and assess a wildly varying array of stereo equipment from talented designers and forward-thinking companies from all over the world. I got my first stereo system from my parents on Christmas Day—Santa bought it from Sears—when I was 12 years old. Back then, I could never have dreamed of listening to the system that is set up before me today.
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